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Jeff Cole is a recent graduate of the Cincinnati police academy who dreams of working undercover. His wish is granted and through success is given the task of taking down state-wide crack dealer Dwayne Gittens aka "God". Gittens is known as a family man and a man of the people, contributing to his community and helping those in need. However, there is another side to him, a ruthless leader of a criminal empire who will torture or kill anyone without question. Over time, Cole develops a close friendship with Gittens. Cole's superiors worry that the line between cop and bad guy is getting blurred and that both identities are becoming one. Cole's loyalties are put to the ultimate test just as there is enough evidence to take Gittens down for good. Written by
Those looking for a rousing shoot-em-up action picture will probably be disappointed by `In Too Deep.' Those looking for a more low-keyed, subdued and thoughtful study of the realities of life as an undercover cop will, however, find much in this film to admire and appreciate. Omar Epps stars as a Cincinnati-based rookie cop, Officer Jeff Cole, who goes undercover to nab a major cocaine dealer from New Jersey who calls himself `God,' (played by rapper LL Cool J) and who, Godfather-like, involves himself heavily in familial values and efforts to `help' the struggling members of his blighted neighborhood. In its exploration of its subject, the film wisely eschews the over-the-top fantasy heroics that afflict so many action films and, instead, tethers itself to the harsh, often ugly realities of the dangerous criminal world in which it is set. The movie builds much of its drama and suspense by bringing to the foreground the fascinating logistics that go into undercover police work, forcing us to witness first hand the risks, the moral compromises (to be convincing, Cole has to snort cocaine himself, for example) and the psychological ambiguities that invariably accompany the job.
Cole is a man who has been obsessed from the early days of his underprivileged, slum-ridden childhood with making a difference in a crime-infested world he knows all too well from first hand experience. This makes him a natural choice for infiltrating this underworld existence since his background has given him the understanding he needs as a point-of-entry. Thus, as he embarks on this new and dangerous career, we see the innate compassion he extends to those caught in the same environment from which he has sprung, an empathy that, in the context of his job, often leads him into a `softness' that clouds his judgment and ends up endangering his life further. In addition, as he is accepted more deeply into the inner circle of trust that God has set up around himself, Cole begins to question his own loyalties or so, at least, the offers in charge of him begin to believe. (This, I imagine, is the undercover agent version of the Stockholm Syndrome that afflicts so many kidnap victims, often leading them to transfer their loyalties from their rescuers to their abductors).
The screenplay, though it could be sharper and more incisive at times, occasionally achieves substance in its examination of just what happens to an undercover agent's mind when he does indeed get `in too deep.' In addition, the film frequently achieves moments of genuine suspense, in truly scary scenes involving God's uncontrolled displays of manic violence and torture and in moments when Cole's entire cover seems to have been `blown.' In those moments, LL Cool J hits all the right notes in his performance but, both he and Epps, unfortunately, lack the dramatic and emotional range as actors necessary to make their quieter, more intimate moments effectively credible. In addition, the dialogue often rings untrue, especially in the conversations among the commanding officers played by Stanley Tucci and, in another weak portrayal, Pam Grier among others.
With better performances, harder-edged dialogue and slightly more energetic direction, `In Too Deep' might have been a great study of moral conflict set within the context of an exciting policier. On the other hand, the film could also have been much worse. As it is, `In Too Deep' respects the seriousness of both its subject matter and its audience and provides a number of powerful scenes - factors for which we are grateful but which also make us yearn for the high quality film that might have been.
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